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California Dreamin’ + Prayers to Greg’s Grandmother

David McNew, Getty Images
Los Angeles International Airport

My Mom, Aunts and Uncles are all heading to California because of my grandmother’s health. She is 96 and day-to-day. I refuse to be down because she was always happy. Never a sad moment during my very limited time with her. I remember my trips to California visiting my grandparents as a kid and teen. I went in 1979, 1982 and 1986. Three of my Mom’s siblings live in the Los Angeles area and all of my living cousins live out there. I was born in Whittier and always wanted to live in Southern California as a kid. Yes, I wanted to be a DJ in Los Angeles. Today my goals are different and I quite enjoy living in Maine. Priorities and maturity changes your outlook. I still love California, but it’s been 26 years since my last time.

Handout, Getty Images
Disneyland

My memory of the trip in 1979 is vague. It was over Easter and I remember staying with my Aunt and Uncle in Norco, riding horses and going to Disneyland. That was the trip I felt my first earthquake, not too rocking. It was sort of similar to the one we felt here in Maine a few weeks ago. The ‘Hollywood’ sign wowed me on that trip. I also remember eating at Jack In The Box and to this day that has been the only time.

Doug Pensinger, Getty Images
Big Sur. California coast

In 1982, that was a trip I took on my own. Mom was trying to get her French thesis done for her masters degree and thought I’d have more fun away that summer. This was the vacation I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. They lived in the town of Willets, which is about three hours north of San Francisco. While there, I played with the kids in the neighborhood, listened to ABBA and played with the cats. I remember my grandmother taking

Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Los Angeles

me to the Willits airport to watch the planes fly in. It’s like the Lewiston-Auburn airport, very small with very few planes coming and going. After about a week of staying exclusively with my grandparents, the three of us drove in a VW bus from Willets to Los Angeles, along the coast. This is the part of the trip I wish I enjoyed more as a 10 year old. We camped along the way, which at the time I hated. I wanted to see the big lights, flash and bustle that is L.A! I wish I would have been old enough to appreciate Big Sur, the redwoods, Pacific Ocean, and the ghost towns left from the gold rush.

If I recall that road trip took about three days. Once in Southern California we did the ‘cooler’ touristy stuff. Stayed with my Aunt and Uncle, who at the time lived in Pacific Palisades. The only thing about that trip that was tough were the layovers. I was flying as an ‘unaccompanied minor’ so I had to stay in one spot in view of an airport official.

David McNew, Getty Images
Venice Beach, California

We all went in 1986 and that was the trip I remember the best. It was a reunion. We all went for my great-grandmother’s 90th birthday. We were there over the 4th of July. I remember the parade. Willits is in the mountains of California, so your ears pop as you drive through.

My favorite Willits memory from that vacation is taking the Skunk Train through the Redwoods, which are some of the tallest trees in North America.

After a week or so, we went south once again. Instead of driving this time we flew from San Francisco to the Ontario Airport. In 1986, we went to ABC studios and were audience members in a pageant. Not too bad for being a 14 year old boy. We did Universal Studios, Disneyland. The coolest thing I remember was walking down Venice Beach. A little like Hampton Beach in New Hampshire, but more eclectic. For example, I saw a guy on roller skates in a white robe that played the ukulele. I guess he was a staple on Venice Beach a.k.a “Mussle Beach.”

Mom wanted to go to the La Brea Tar Pits so we did that. For me one of the best parts of tooling around is I got to listen to the coolest radio stations, including one that blew me away, Power 106. We drove by the Capitol Records building, too. It was like the TV and the movies coming to life for me. I fell in love with that town that summer. My one regret and I wish I spoke up, I really wanted to see the hospital I was born in and the house that went home to in La Habra, but not to be. Someday we’ll go again. There is just so much more I want to see out there.

To my grandmother Barbara ‘Bama.’ I hope you rebound, my prayers are with you. I also want to say thank you. Because of you and ‘Papa’ I have those great memories in California and the stories you told. I also want to say thank you for coming to our wedding in 2000. Because of you too, I experienced so much and hold those memories dear. Thank you for sending those creative Christmas cards. I know thank you notes weren’t my strong suit back as a kid, but do appreciate them now. You’re a wonderful person.

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